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Keep Foodborne Illness Out of Your Lunch

Do you ever forget your lunch in your car or leave it sitting out before break time? If so, you may be opening yourself up to bacteria that cause many foodborne illnesses.

Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli) and other microorganisms that cause the majority of “food poisoning” cases flourish when weather is warm and humid. Construction laborers bringing lunches to jobsites where there is no refrigerator access need to pack meals that remain safe to eat when left outside.

Lunch meats, hardboiled eggs, pasta salads, pudding and other perishable foods are safe for only two hours when not kept chilled and just one hour when the thermometer reaches 90° or higher. When outside temperatures hover in the 60s, this danger point can be reached inside a parked car or truck (where a lunch might be stored) in just 10 minutes.

Ensuring that an unrefrigerated lunch is safe to eat at break time begins with how it was prepared and packed before it left the house:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before handling any food.
  • Wash your cutting board after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.
  • Make sure your lunchbox or insulated lunch bag is clean.
  • Pack food items in clean packaging and bags. Never reuse foil, plastic wrap and plastic bags from yesterday’s lunch.
  • Use chilled food. If you are making something specifically for lunch, try to do it the night before to give it several hours in the refrigerator before you pack it.
  • Divide food into shallow containers for faster chilling and easier use.
  • Pack exactly the amount you plan to eat. That way you will not have a problem with storage or the safety of your leftovers.
  • Whether your meal is in a lunchbox or a bag, pack at least two ice sources with perishable food. Use frozen gel packs, frozen juice boxes or frozen water bottles.

Some foods that make for nutritious lunches don’t have to be chilled. Fresh fruits and vegetables, canned meat and fish and peanut butter and jelly do not require refrigeration. Use individual prepackaged condiments like ketchup, mustard, relish and mayonnaise that don’t have to be refrigerated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million Americans are laid low and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses every year. A lunch brought from home that is properly packed reduces your risk for getting sick from something you ate.

The LHSFNA offers a number of materials designed to help Laborers make healthy food choices when packing their lunches. These include the Nutrition & Fitness for Laborers training manual and its accompanying Nutrition & Fitness for Laborers brochure. Order these and other health and safety materials developed by the Fund’s expert staff by clicking on Publications.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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